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The Captive (Chapter Fourteen)

There was silence under the silver disk of moon.

"Cassie," Melanie said again.

Now everyone was looking at her. Cassie could feel the heat of Faye's golden eyes on her, and she knew why Sean had squirmed. They were hotter than the pillar of fire Diana had summoned up to protect them at Halloween.

As if compelled, Cassie glanced the other way. Diana was looking at her too. Diana's eyes were like a pool adrift with green leaves. Cassie couldn't seem to look away from them.

"Cassie?" Melanie said for the third time. Her voice was tinged with the slightest note of doubt.

Still unable to look away from Diana's eyes, Cassie whispered, "Faye."

"What? "cried Laurel.

"Faye," Cassie said, too loudly. She was clutching the piece of hematite in her pocket. Coldness from it seemed to seep through her body. "I said Faye, all right?" she said to Melanie, but she was still looking at Diana.

Those clear green eyes were bewildered. Then, all at once, understanding came into them, as if a stone had been tossed into the tranquil pool. And when Cassie saw that, saw Diana really understand what had just happened, something inside her died forever.

Cassie didn't know any longer why she was voting for Faye. She couldn't remember now how all this had started, how she'd gotten on this path in the first place. All she knew was that the coldness from her hand and arm was trickling through her entire body, and that from here on, there was no turning back.

Melanie was sitting motionless, stunned, not touching the pile of red and white stones. She seemed to have forgotten about them. It was Deborah who leaned forward and picked up the sixth red stone, adding it to Faye's pile.

And somehow that act, and the sight of the six red stones beside the five white ones, made it real. Electricity crackled in the air as everyone sat forward.

Slowly, Melanie said, "Faye is the new leader of the coven."

Faye stood up.

She had never seemed so tall before, or so beautiful.

Silently, she held out a hand to Diana.

But it wasn't a gesture of friendship. Faye's open hand with the long crimson nails was demanding. And in response to it, very slowly, Diana got to her feet as well. She unclasped the silver bracelet from her upper arm.

Adam had been staring, thunderstruck. Now he jumped to his feet. "Wait a minute-"

"It's no use, Adam," Melanie said, in a deadened voice. "The vote was fair. Nothing can change it now."

Faye took the silver bracelet with the mysterious, runic inscriptions, and clasped it about her own bare, rounded arm. It shone there against the honey-pale skin.

Diana's fingers trembled as she undid the garter. Laurel, muttering something and brushing tears out of her eyes with an angry gesture, moved forward to help her, kneeling before Diana and tugging at the circle of green leather and blue silk. It came free and Laurel stood up, looking as if she wanted to throw it at Faye.

But Diana took it and placed it in Faye's hand.

Faye was wearing the shimmering black shift that she'd worn to the Halloween dance, the one slit up both sides to the hip. She buckled the garter around her left thigh.

Then Diana put both hands to her hair and lifted off the diadem. Fine strands of hair the color of sunlight and moonlight woven together clung to the silver crown as she removed it.

Faye reached out and almost snatched it from her.

Faye held the circlet up high, as if showing it to the coven, to the four elements, to the world. Then she settled it on her own head. The crescent moon in its center gleamed against her wild black mane of hair.

There was a collective release of breath from the Circle.

Cassie didn't know how she'd gotten to her feet, but suddenly she was running. She bolted out of the circle and ran beside the ocean, her feet sinking into wet sand. She ran until something caught her from behind and stopped her.

"Cassie!" Adam said. His eyes looked straight into hers, as if he was searching for her soul.

Cassie hit out at him.

"Cassie, I know you didn't want to do it! She made you, somehow, didn't she? Cassie, tell me!"

Cassie tried to shake him off again. Why was he bothering her? She was furious, suddenly, with Adam and Diana and their everlasting faith in her.

"I know she made you," Adam said forcefully.

"Nobody made me!" Cassie almost shouted. Then she stopped fighting him and they stood and stared at each other, both breathing hard.

"You'd better get back there," Cassie said. "We're not supposed to be alone-remember? Remember our oath? Not that I guess you need to think about it much anymore. It's pretty easy to keep these days, isn't it?"

"Cassie, what's going on?"

"Nothing is going on! Just go, Adam. Just-" Before Cassie could stop herself she had grabbed Adam's arms and pulled him forward.

And then she kissed him. It was a hard, angry kiss, and the next moment when she released him she was as stunned as he was.

They stared at each other speechlessly.

"Go back," Cassie said, hardly able to hear her own voice through the pounding in her ears. It was over, it was all over. She was so cold… not just her skin, but inside her, deep in her core, she was freezing. Freezing over like black ice. Everything was black around her.

She pushed Adam away and made for the distant glow of the bonfire.

"Cassie!"

"I'm going back. To congratulate our new leader."

It was chaos back at the circle. Laurel was crying, Deborah was shouting, Chris and Doug were glaring like a couple of tomcats about to fight and calling each other names. Sean was hovering behind Faye to keep his distance from a disdainful Melanie. Suzan was telling Chris and Doug to grow up, while Faye laughed. Of all of them, only Nick and Diana were utterly still. Nick was smoking silently, away from the rest of the group, watching them with narrowed eyes.

Diana was just standing there, exactly where she'd been when Cassie left. She didn't seem to see or hear any of the disturbance around her.

"Will you all just shut up?" Deborah was yelling when Cassie reached them. "Faye's the one in charge now."

"That's right," Suzan said. Chris and Doug were shoving each other now. Suzan saw Cassie and said appealingly, "Isn't that right, Cassie?*

It was strange, how quickly the silence descended. Everyone was looking at Cassie again.

"That's right," Cassie said, in a voice hard as stone.

Chris and Doug stopped shoving. Laurel stopped crying. No one moved as Cassie walked over behind Faye. From that position she might have been supporting Faye-or she might have been about to stab her in the back.

If Faye was afraid, she didn't show it. "Okay," she said to the others. "You heard it. I'm leader. And now I'm going to give my first order." She turned her head slightly to address Cassie. "I want you to get the skull. As for the rest of you-we're going to the cemetery."

"What?" Laurel screamed.

"I'm leader and I'm going to do something with my power instead of just sitting on it. There's energy trapped in that skull, energy that we can use. Cassie, go get it."

Everyone was talking now, arguing, bellowing at each other. Things had never been like this when Diana was leader. Adam was yelling at Faye, demanding to know if she had gone crazy. Only Nick and Diana remained still, Nick watching, Diana staring at something only she could see.

Melanie was trying to restore calm, but it was doing no good. Some distant, clinical part of Cassie's mind noted that if Diana were to interfere now, if Diana would come forward and take over, the coven would listen to her. But Diana did nothing. And the shouting just got louder.

"Get it, Cassie," Faye was snarling between clenched teeth. "Or I'll get it myself."

Cassie could feel Power building around her. The sky overhead was stretched tight as a drum, tight as a harp string waiting to be plucked. The ocean behind her throbbed with pent-up force. She could feel it in the sand under her feet, and see it in the leaping flames of the bonfire.

She remembered what she'd done to the Doberman in the pumpkin patch. Some power had burst out from her, focused like a laser beam. Cassie felt as if something like that was concentrating in her now. She was connected to everything and it was all waiting for her to unleash it.

"Black John will let us have his power-he'll give it to us if we just ask the right way," Faye was shouting. "I know, I've communicated with him. But we have to go and ask him."

Communicated with him-when? Cassie thought. When she, Cassie, had let Faye take the skull the first time? Or at some point later?

"But why the cemetery?" Melanie was crying. "Why there?"

"Because that's what he says" Faye snapped back impatiently. "Cassie, for the last time! Get the skull!"

The elements were ranged behind her… Cassie stared at the back of Faye's neck. But then she remembered something. The look in Diana's eyes when Cassie had voted against her… oh, what good would it do to kill Faye now? Everything was over.

Cassie spun around and headed for the place where the skull was buried.

"How does she even know–?" Melanie was beginning, and Faye's laughter cut her off. So that was over, too, the secret about Cassie stealing the skull was out. Diana hadn't told anyone exactly where the skull was buried, not even Adam. Cassie ran so she wouldn't have to hear more.

She dug in the center of the blackened stones until her fingernails scraped the cloth that wrapped the skull. Then she dug around it and pulled it out of the sand, surprised, as always, by how heavy it was. Cassie staggered as she picked the skull up and started back to Faye.

Deborah ran to meet her. "This way," she said, diverting Cassie before she could reach the group. "Come on!" They climbed the bluff and Cassie saw Deborah's motorcycle.

"Faye planned this," Cassie said. She looked at Deborah, her voice rising slightly. "Faye had this planned!"

"Yeah. So what?" Deborah looked perplexed; a good lieutenant used to taking orders from her superior. What did Cassie care if Faye had it planned? "She figured she would have a hard time getting all the others to come, but she wanted to make sure we got there,"

Deborah explained.

"I don't see how she's going to get any of the others to come," Cassie said, looking down at the group below. But a strange madness seemed to have taken hold of some of them; whatever Faye was saying was whipping them into a frenzy. Suzan was heading for the bluff, and Doug was half dragging Chris. Faye was pushing Sean.

"That's seven; Faye said that's all we need," Deborah said, turning from the bluff. "Come on!"

This motorcycle ride was like the last, in that the speed was as great, the moon even brighter. But this time Cassie wasn't afraid, even though she could only hold on to Deborah with one arm. The other was hugging the skull to her lap. They reached the cemetery and a minute later heard engines. The Samurai was arriving with Chris and Doug and Suzan. Behind it was Faye's Corvette. Faye got out of the driver's side and Sean tumbled out of the passenger door.

"Follow me," Faye said. Long hair switching behind her, she made for the northeast corner. With every step she took, her bare, shapely legs flashed pale, showing the garter on her thigh and a black-handled dagger tucked in the garter. When the ground began to rise, she stopped.

Cassie stopped, too, clutching the skull to her chest with both arms, frighteningly aware of where they were standing. In a row here, broken only by a mound in the earth, were the graves of Faye's father, Sean's mother, and all the other dead parents from Crowhaven Road. Sean was sniveling now, and only Deborah's grip on him was keeping him from running away.

Faye turned to face them. Even in the worst of times, the tall, dramatically beautiful girl had a natural authority, an ability to intimidate people. Now that seemed enhanced by the symbols of the Queen of the Witches: the diadem, the bracelet, the garter. An aura of power and glamour surrounded her.

"It's time," Faye said, "to take back the energy that belonged to the original coven, and that Black John stored in the skull. Black John wants us to have that power, to use against our enemies. And we can get it back-now."

Taking the black-handled dagger out of her garter, Faye unsheathed it and drew a quick, imperfect circle in the dried-up grass. "Get in,"

she said, and the others took their places.

She's got them moving so fast they're not thinking about what they're doing, Cassie thought. No one questioned Faye; everyone seemed caught up in the driving urgency Faye was creating. Even Sean had stopped whining and was staring, rapt.

And Faye made a stunning sight as she held the knife up and rapidly called on the elements for protection. Too fast, Cassie was thinking- such slight protection when all their efforts on Halloween hadn't been enough. But she couldn't speak either; they were all caught on a roller-coaster ride and nobody could stop it. Least of all Cassie, who was so numb and cold…

"Put the skull in the center, Cassie," Faye said. Her voice was breathless and her chest was rising and falling quickly. She looked more excited than she had ever looked about Jeffrey, or Nick, or that guy from the pizza place she'd taken upstairs.

Cassie knelt and placed the cloth-wrapped thing in the middle of Faye's flawed circle.

"And now," Faye said, in that queer, exultant voice, staring down at the sandy lump between her feet, "we can reclaim the power that should have been ours all along. I call on all the elements to witness-"

"Faye, stop!" Adam shouted, appearing running between the gravestones.

The rest of the coven was behind him, including Diana, who still looked as if she were moving in her sleep. Even Nick, silent and watchful as always, was in the rear.

Faye snatched up the covered skull and held it cradled in her two hands. "You had your chance," she said. "Now it's my turn."

"Faye, just stop a minute and think," Adam said. "Black John isn't your friend. If he's really communicated with you, whatever he's told you is lies-"

"You're the liar!" Faye shot back.

"Chris, Doug-that skull killed Kori. If you let that dark energy loose again-"

"Don't listen to him!" Faye shouted. She looked like some barbarian queen as she stood there, long legs apart, silver glinting against the black of her shift and the darker black of her hair. Cassie realized that while Adam was talking to her, Laurel and Melanie were circling, one on either side.

Faye realized it, too. "I won't let you stop me! This is the beginning of a new Circle!"

"Please, Faye-" Diana cried, desperately, seeming to wake up at last.

"By Earth, by Air, by Fire, by Water!" Faye shouted, and she jerked the cloth off the skull and held it in both hands over her head.

Silver. The full moon shone down on the crystal and seemed to blaze there, and it was as if another face were suspended above Faye's; a livid, unnatural, skeletal face. And then- darkness began to pour forth from it. Something blacker than the sky between the stars was streaming out of the skull's eyesockets, out of its gaping nose-hole and between its grinning teeth. Snakes, thought Cassie, staring hypnotized at what was happening. Snakes and worms and the old kind of dragons, the kind whose heavy scales scrape the ground and who spit poison when they breathe. Everything bad, everything black, everything loathsome and crawling and evil seemed to be flooding out of that skull, although none of it was real. It was only darkness, only black light.

There was a sound like the humming of bees, only higher, more deadly. It was growing. Faye was standing under that dreadful cascade of darkness, and the sound was like two ice picks driving into Cassie's ears, and somewhere a dog was barking…

Someone has to stop this, Cassie realized. No-I have to stop this. Now.

She was getting to her feet when the skull exploded.

Everything was quiet and dark.

Cassie wanted it to stay that way.

Somebody groaned beside her.

Cassie sat up slowly, looking around, trying to piece together what had happened. The cemetery looked like a killing field. Bodies were strewn all over. There was Adam, stretched out with one arm reaching toward the circle and Raj beside him. There was Diana with her shining hair in the leaves and dirt. There was Nick, getting to his hands and knees, shaking his head.

Faye was lying in a pool of black silk, her dark hair covering her face. Her hands with their long red nails were cupped, open-but empty. There was no sign of the skull.

Someone groaned again, and Cassie looked to see Deborah sitting up, rubbing her face with one hand.

"Are they dead?" Deborah said hoarsely, staring around.

"I don't know," Cassie whispered. Her own throat hurt. All those bodies, and the only movement was the fluttering of Diana's hair in the wind. And Nick, who was stumbling toward the circle.

But then there was a stirring-people were starting to sit up. Sean was whimpering. Suzan was, too. Deborah crawled over to Faye and pushed Faye's hair back.

"She's breathing."

Cassie nodded; she didn't know what to say. Adam was bending over Diana-she looked quickly away from that. Melanie and Laurel were up, and so were Chris and Doug, looking like punch-drunk fighters. Everyone seemed to be alive.

Then Cassie saw Laurel gasp and point. "Oh, my God. The mound. Look at the mound."

Cassie turned-and froze. Her eyes went back and forth over the scene without believing it.

The mound her grandmother had told her was for storing artillery was broken open. The rusty padlock was gone, and the iron door was jammed against the piece of concrete. But that wasn't all. The top of the mound, where the sparse cemetery grass had grown, was cracked like an overripe plum. Like the cocoon of an insect that had burst free.

And all up and down the line of graves by the fence, tombstones were tilting crazily. The ones nearest the mound, the ones with the names of the parents of Crowhaven Road, were split and shattered. Riven, Cassie thought, the old-fashioned word coming from nowhere, singularly appropriate.

Something from inside the mound smelled bad.

"I've got to see," Deborah muttered. Cassie had never admired anyone so much as she did Deborah just then, making her staggering way toward the open mound. Deborah had more physical courage than anyone Cassie had ever known. Dizzily, Cassie got up and lurched beside her, and they both fell to their knees at the edge of the evil-smelling fissure.

The moon shining inside showed that it was empty. But there was a coating like slime on the raw earth down there.

Then light and motion caught Cassie's eye.

It was in the sky, the sky to the northeast. It was something like the aurora borealis, except that it flickered intermittently, and it was entirely red.

"That's above Crowhaven Road," Nick said.

"Oh, God, what's happening?" Laurel cried.

"Looks like fire," Deborah muttered, still hoarse.

"Whatever it is, we'd better get there," Nick said.

Adam was holding Diana, trying to revive her. Suzan and Sean were huddled, and Chris and Doug still looked punchy. But Melanie and Laurel were on their feet, if shaken.

"Nick's right," Melanie said. "Let Adam take care of things here. Something's happening."

Cassie glanced at Faye, her fallen leader, lying on the ground. Then she turned and followed Melanie without a word.

It didn't matter that the five who started unsteadily toward the road had just recently been on opposite sides of a fight. There was no time to think about anything that petty now. Cassie got on the back of Deborah's motorcycle, and Melanie and Laurel jumped into Nick's car. The others would have to follow when they could-and if they wanted to.

Wind roared in Cassie's ears like the sound of the sea. But the feeling of power she'd had earlier, the connection with the elements, was broken. She couldn't think-her mind was fuzzy and cloudy as if she had a bad cold. All she knew was that she had to get to Crowhaven Road.

"It's not fire," Deborah shouted as they approached. "No smoke."

Dark houses flew by-Diana's, Deborah's. The empty Georgian at Number Three. Melanie's, Laurel's, Faye's. The vacant Victorian. The Hendersons', Adam's, Suzan's, Sean's…

"It's at your house, Cassie," Deborah shouted.

Yes. Cassie knew it would be. Something inside her had known even before they started out.

A maple tree showed up like a black skeleton against the red light that engulfed the house at Number Twelve. But the red wasn't fire. It was some witch-light, a crimson aura of evil.

Cassie remembered how much she had hated this house when she'd first seen it. She'd hated it for being huge and ugly, with its peeling gray clapboards and its sagging eaves and unwashed windows. But now she cared about it. It was her family's ancient home; it belonged to her. And more important than anything, her mother and grandmother were inside.

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